Red-tailed Vulture

Last Sunday I decided to try a new spot for sparrows. Didn’t find any “yellow” sparrows but it was loaded with Song and Swamp Sparrows. Plus my FOS White-crowned Sparrow was singing nearby and a few Eastern Meadowlarks¬†thrown in for a bonus.

That’s all well and good but what caught my eye was a hawk in a nearby tree. When I first arrived there were crows hanging around. Every so often a couple would make a bee-line to a nearby tree.

It took a few minutes to finally spot the hawk they were harassing. Or was it a vulture? I wasn’t sure.

I wasn’t that far away and for someone who didn’t start birding yesterday, the call should have been instantaneous. But it wasn’t. So I walked closer hoping it wouldn’t fly.

rtha-head-2 Red-tailed Vulture
First look from a distance. The body says hawk but the head said vulture. Semi-rural Marion County 10/2/16

As I moved closer it became clear that it was a hawk without any head feathers. Something I’ve never seen before. I was pretty certain it was a Red-tailed but still not 100%.

What would cause the head on this Red-tailed Hawk not to have feathers? Molting? Disease? I didn’t know. Semi-rural Marion County 10/2/16

Otherwise the bird appeared healthy. After being harassed long enough it flew over to a nearby roof not showing any signs of illness. Its flight and landing both looked normal.




If I’d just seen the head in this photo I would have called this a vulture. Semi-rural Marion County 10/2/16

For fun I looked at other vultures around the world seeing if this guy looked like any of them. Thinks to Wikipedia I discovered there are 23 species in the world – 16 Old World and 7 New World. I looked at all 23 and none really have the brown of Red-tailed Hawk with a gray head. To my eye the closet one in appearance to the odd hawk is the Old World Cinereous Vulture also known as Eurasian Black Vulture or Monk Vulture.

This Cinereous Vulture is about as close as I could find to matching the odd-looking Red-tailed Hawk.

If anyone has any idea what is wrong with the hawk please leave a comment.

5 Replies to “Red-tailed Vulture”

    1. Thanks Mark, after looking again I think you are correct. I’m going to do a follow up pointing that out and I’ve found some websites pointing out the causes for head baldness. In the field the hawk appeared larger like a Red-tailed and I was more concerned with the bald head. I should have looked at the photos a little closer. Not the first time I’ve been wrong…

  1. In August I had a juvy red shouldered with a similar head problem, but not to this extent. The tail banding appears too narrow for a red shouldered.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Hopefully I can relocate the bird at a later date to see if it’s feathers have grown in.

      As I replied to Mark after taking the time to check this appears to be a young Red-shouldered. I’ll follow up with the differences at a later date.

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